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Doctrine of the Mean
Translated by Charles Muller
When citing this text, please use the URL: http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/docofmean.htm
A. The Text
1. What Heaven confers is called "nature."
Accordance with this nature is called the Tao.
Cultivating the Tao is called "education."
That which is called Tao cannot be separated from for an instant.
What can be separated from is not the Tao. Therefore the Superior
Man is cautious in the place where he is not seen, and apprehensive in
the place where he is not heard. Nothing is more visible than the hidden,
and nothing is more apparent than the subtle. Therefore the Superior Man
is cautious when he is alone. When joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure have
not yet arisen, it is called ch'ung (equilibrium, centrality, mean).
When they arise to their appropriate levels, it is called "harmony." Ch'ung
is the great root of all-under-heaven. "Harmony" is the penetration of
the Tao through all-under-heaven. When the mean and harmony are actualized,
Heaven and Earth are in their proper positions, and the myriad things are
B. The Commentary
2. Confucius said: "The Superior Man actualizes the mean, the inferior
man goes against it. The Superior Man actualizes the mean because he is
always with it; the inferior man's contrarity is do to his heedlessness."
3. How far-reaching the mean is! That is why those who are able to keep
it for long are few.
4. Confucius said: "I know why the Tao is not practiced. The intelligent
go beyond it and the dull do not reach it. I know why the Tao is not manifested.
The 'good' go beyond it and the unworthy do not reach it. There is no one
who does not eat or drink, but there are few who really have 'taste.'"
5. Confucius said: "What a pity! The way is not followed."
6. Confucius said: "(Emperor) Shun was so wise! He liked to question people
and delighted in listening to everyday speech. He would cover people's
bad points and disclose their goodness. He snatched up their excesses and
facilitated their balanced nature for the benefit of all. It was in this
way that Shun made himself into what he was."
7. Confucius said: "Everybody says 'I know,' but they are driven forward,
becoming ensnared in traps and falling into pits without knowing how to
avoid them. Everybody says 'I know,' but in intending the actualization
of the mean, they are not able to stay with it for a full month."
8. Confucius said: "(Yen) Hui was the kind of person who grasped the mean
in such a way that, attaining to a certain goodness, he would clasp it
firmly and never lose it."
9. Confucius said: "You might be able to put in order the whole country,
kingdoms and clans; decline rank and merit-pay and tread on bare swords,
yet still be incapable of actualizing the mean."
[Comment] The performance of phenomenal wonders in incomparable
with the task of actualizing the mean.
10. Tzu-lu asked about strength. Confucius said: "Do you mean the strength
of the South, the strength of the North, or the strength of self-mastery?
To be broadminded and gentle in teaching and not rashly punish wrong-doing
is the strength of the South. The Superior Man abides in this. To be able
to make a bed of weapons and armor and die without grief--this is the strength
of the North. The forceful are at home in this.
Therefore the Superior Man is harmonious without getting sloppy.
How correct his strength is! He stands in the center without leaning to
either side. How correct his strength is! When the Tao is manifest in the
land, he is changeless in his support of it. How correct his strength is!
When the Tao is not manifest in the land, he will not sell himself out,
even until death. How correct his strength is!"
11. Confucius said: "When you study the occult and perform miracles, later
generations always tell about it. This I won't do."
"As a Superior Man, to go according to the Tao and abandon it half
way--this I certainly cannot do."
"Then there is the Superior Man, who depends on his actualization
of the mean, hides himself from the world such that he is unseen and unknown,
and has no regrets about it. Only the sage can do this."
12. The Tao of the Superior Man functions everywhere, yet is inconspicuous.
Average men and women, even if ignorant, know something of it; yet even
the sage cannot know it completely. Average men and women, even though
lacking in ability are able to practice to some extent; yet even the sage
cannot practice it perfectly.
As vast as the universe is, people still have dissatisfaction. When
the Superior Man calls it "vast," he means it is too large to be grasped.
When he speaks of its smallness, he means that it is something that cannot
be further broken down.
The Book of Odes says: "The hawk flies high in the sky; the
fish dances in the deep." This means that its height and its depth are
both observable. The Tao of the Superior Man starts with the common people,
but in its absoluteness, it is observed throughout the universe.
13. Confucius said: "The Tao is not something separate from man. If you
practice a Tao that is apart from man, this cannot the Tao. The Book of
Carving axe handles
One after another
They differ little from the original sample
Taking one to carve another.
When you compare them,
There are still differences.
Therefore the Superior Man treats people as human beings, and once they
have corrected themselves, he lets them be. Being sincere and fair to all,
though this is different from the Tao, it are not far from it. This means
"not doing to others what you don't want done to yourself." There are four
general ways that this can be characterized, one of which I have been
able to fully practice:
(1) Treating my father as I expect my son to treat me.
(2) Treating my ruler as I expect my ministers to treat me.
(3) Treating my older brothers as I expect my younger brothers to
(4) Treating my friends as I expect my friends to treat me.
In the putting into practice of virtue or the taking care of speech,
if there is somewhere where I am deficient, I certainly endeavor further.
If there is excess, I do not dare to merely expend it. His words reflecting
his actions, his actions reflecting his words--how can this Superior Man
not be sincere through and through?
14. The Superior Man acts accepting his own situation. He does not hope
to be somewhere else. When he is in a position of fame and fortune, he
acts within fame and fortune. When in a position of poverty and low status,
he acts within poverty and low status. When dwelling with uncultured tribes,
he acts as if he is with uncultured tribes. When he is in stress and difficulty,
he acts from within stress and difficulty. There is no place where the
Superior Man is not completely himself.
When in a high position, he does not step on those below him. When
in a low position, he does not drag down those above him. Correcting yourself
and not expecting things from others, you will not create resentments.
You will not resent Heaven above, nor blame men below.
The Superior Man abides in change and awaits his destiny. The inferior
man practices manipulation and prays for luck.
The Master said: "Practicing archery is like practicing to be a Superior
Man. When you miss the bulls-eye, you look for the error in yourself."
15. The Tao of the Superior Man can be compared to traveling: To go far,
you must start from close by. It can be compared to climbing: To go high,
you must start from down low. The Book of Odes says:
The Happy union with wife and children
Is like the music of lutes and harps
When siblings all get along
The harmony is entrancing.
So make your household good
And enjoy your wife and children.
The Master said: "Husband and wife should follow each other."
16. Confucius said: "The overabundance of the power of spiritual beings
is truly amazing! Looking for them, they cannot be seen. Listening for
them, they cannot be heard. There is nothing that they do not embody. They
cause the people of the world to fast for purification, and wear beautiful
clothes in order to participate at the sacrifices. They are overflowing,
seeming to be above, seeming to be on the left and on the right. The Book
of Odes says: 'Trying to investigate the spirits, we cannot reach them.
How could we possibly grasp them with our thoughts?' The manifestation
of the subtle and the inconcealability of sincerity is like this."
17. What a good son was Shun (the sage emperor)! His virtue was that of
a sage, he was venerated as an emperor. His wealth included everything
within the four seas. He is sacrificed to in the ancestral temple, and
his sons and grandsons have preserved his name. Therefore we can say that
the greatly virtuous always attain their appropriate position, always receive
their proper reward, always get their recognition and are always long-lived.
We can also know that Heaven develops each thing according to its
preparation. Thus, Heaven nourishes the growing sprout, and throws down
the leaning tree. The Book of Odes says:
Joyful is the Prince
With the power of his own correctness
He harmonized those far and near
He received his reward from Heaven
Who protected him, helped him
And gave him the mandate
Which he in turn enhanced.
Thus, the greatly virtuous always receive the Mandate of Heaven.
18. Confucius said: "The only one who didn't suffer from grief was King
Wen, since his father was King Chi and his son was King Wu. His father
set him up and his son continued his ways. King Wu merely extended what
had been handed down from Kings T'ai, Chi and Wen. Once he put on his armor,
he took control of the whole realm and he never failed to live up to the
great reputation the people accorded to him. He was respected as an emperor;
his wealth included all within the four seas. The ancestral halls make
offerings to him, and his sons and grandsons have preserved his name."
King Wu received the Mandate of Heaven late in life. The Duke of
Chou consummated the virtue of Wen and Wu. Following in the ways of Kings
T'ai and Chi, he sacrificed to the former princes with the ceremony proper
to an emperor, and spread this ceremony to all the nobles, ministers, officers
and the common people. If the father was a minister and the son an officer,
then the funeral ceremony would be for a minister, and the sacrifices for
an officer. If the father was an officer and the son was a minister, he
would be buried as an officer and sacrificed to as a minister. The one
year's mourning applied up to the ministers, but the three-year mourning
applied up the emperor. In the mourning for parents, there was no distinction
according to class.
19. Confucius said: "How completely King Wu and the Duke of Chou actualized
their filial piety! Through filial piety, they correctly passed down the
wills of their forefathers and correctly transmitted their works. In spring
and autumn, they cleaned the ancestral temple, laid out the sacrificial
vessels, dressed up in the ceremonial outfit and prepared the seasonal
Using the ritual of the ancestral temple, they ordered the ancestral
By rank, they distinguished high and low classes; by works, they
By having the lower classes offer the toast to the upper classes,
they kept the lower classes involved.
By hair color, they distinguished seniority. Each taking their positions,
they carried out the ritual, played the music, respected the venerable,
loved their relatives. They served the dead as if they were alive, and
they served those not present as if they were there. Herein they brought
filial piety to its highest level.
They used the Winter and Summer festival to make offerings to the
Lord-on-High, and used the rituals on the ancestral temple to make offerings
to the ancestors. He who could completely disclose the meaning of the Winter
and Summer sacrifices, and the great Imperial sacrifice, could govern the
country as easily as if he were pointing to the palm of his hand."
20. The Duke of Ai asked about government. Confucius said: "The records
of the governments of Wen and Wu are on the ancient tablets. When they
had the right people, the government functioned, and when they didn't have
the right people, government failed. When people are right, the government
flourishes; when the ground is right, plants flourish; the governments
of Wen and Wu flourished like fast-growing weeds."
Therefore, the skillful handling of government is contingent upon
having the right people. You attract the right people by your own character.
You cultivate your character through the Tao and you manifest the Tao by
means of jen. Jen is "humanity" and its most obvious function
is in love for relatives. "Justice" means "setting things right" and its
most obvious function is in venerating the Good. The differing levels in
loving relatives and venerating the good are expressed through propriety.
Thus, if your rank is low, and you do not have the support of those
in power, you cannot hope to have an influence on government. Therefore
the Superior man cannot but cultivate his character.
Wanting to cultivate his character, he cannot do it without serving his
parents. Wanting to serve his parents, he cannot do it without understanding
others. Wanting to understand others, he cannot do it without understanding
There are five pervasive (ta) relationships in this world,
which are carried out in 3 ways. The relationships are those between ruler
and minister, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger
brother, and between friends. The three ways of practice are wisdom, jen
and courage, but they are practiced in unison.
Some are born knowing it; some know it by learning and some have
to struggle to know it. Nonetheless, the knowledge is the same.
Some practice it by being comfortable within it; some practice it
by benefitting from it; and some have to struggle to practice it. But when
the practice is perfected, it is the same."
Confucius said: "Loving study, you approach wisdom; loving energetic
practice, you approach jen. Understanding shame, you approach courage.
If you understand these three, you know how to polish your character; knowing
how to polish your character, you know how to handle others; knowing how
to handle others, you know how to govern a state or clan."
In general, in the handling of the realm, a state or a clan, there
are nine basic patterns of treatment. These are: polishing your own character;
venerating the Good; caring for your relatives; respecting the high ministers;
making the lower ministers feel like they have a significant role; treating
the common people as your children; making the artisans feel welcome; treating
foreign guests gently and embracing the nobles.
Polishing your character, you set up your own Tao. Venerating the
Good, you are not deluded. Caring for your relatives, then your fathers,
elder and younger brothers will not resent you. Respecting the high ministers,
you will not make foolish mistakes. Making the lower ministers feel like
they are part of it, they will regard propriety with seriousness. Treating
the common people as your children, they will work hard. Making the artisans
feel welcome, there will be plenty of commerce. Being gentle to guests
from afar, people will flock to you from all directions. If you embrace
the nobility, the people will have a healthy fear of them.
Fasting in ceremonial dress, not acting against the norms of propriety;
this is how you polish your character. Letting go of slander, freeing yourself
from lust, disregarding wealth and prizing virtue: This is how you promote
goodness. Respecting their rank, paying them well, going along with their
likes and dislikes: this is the way to take care of your relatives. Giving
them enough officers to dole out their responsibilities: this is the way
to encourage the high ministers. To reward well trustworthiness and loyalty:
this is the way to encourage the lower officers. Employing the people around
their own farming schedules and taxing them lightly: this is the way to
encourage the people. Daily and monthly examining their works and giving
merit where due: this is the way to encourage the artisans. Sending out
envoys to meet foreign visitors and bestowing kindness and pity on the
handicapped: this is the way to be gentle to visitors from afar. To renew
their broken lineages, restore their vanquished states, quell their rebellions
and protect them from danger; giving them rich presents and expecting little
in return: this is how you embrace the nobles.
While altogether there are this nine patterns of treatment, there
is a single way to carry out all of them. In all affairs, if you plan ahead
you can be successful, and if you don't plan ahead, you will fail. If you
are prepared before you speak, you won't be tongue-tied. If you are prepared
before you begin a job, you won't have complications. If you are prepared
before you act, you won't have to be sorry. If you are prepared before
teaching, you won't run out of material.
Again, if you are in a position of low rank, and you have no influence
above, you will have no way of governing people. Even though there is a
way of influencing superiors, if your friends don't trust you, you won't
be able to influence superiors. Even though there is a way of gaining the
trust of your friends, if you have discord with your relatives, you will
not be trusted by your friends. Even though there is a way of having harmony
with your relatives, if your character is not sincere, you will have discord
with your relatives. Even though there is a way to make your character
sincere, if you have not awakened to your goodness, you will not be able
to make your character sincere.
Sincerity is the Way of Heaven. Making oneself sincere is the Way
of Man. If you can be perfectly sincere without effort, without a mindfulness
to its attainment, and walk embracing the Middle Way, you are a sage.
If you are working at making yourself sincere, you must find your
goodness and hold fast to it. You must study it broadly, investigate it
in detail, deliberate on it carefully, discern it clearly and practice
it universally. Where there is a lack in your understanding, or your study
has not yet reached the point where it is effective, don't just leave it.
When there is something you have investigated, or investigated but not
understood, don't just leave it. When there is something that you have
not yet discerned, or discerned but not yet clarified, don't just leave
it. When there is something you have not yet practiced, or have practiced,
but not yet universally, don't just leave it.
If someone else gets it in one try, I will try one hundred times.
If someone else gets it in ten tries, I will try one thousand times. If
you are able to follow this Way, then even if you are stupid, you will
become enlightened. Even if you are weak, you will become strong.
21. The enlightenment that comes from sincerity is our own nature. The
sincerity that comes from enlightenment is called "education." If you are
sincere you will be enlightened. If you are enlightened, you will be sincere.
22. Only the perfectly sincere person can actualize his own essence. Actualizing
his own essence, he can fully actualize the essence of others. Fully actualizing
the essence of others, he can fully actualize the essence of all things.
Being able to fully actualize the essence of all things, he can assist
Heaven and Earth in their transformation and sustenance. Able to assist
in Heaven and Earth's transformation and sustenance, he forms a trinity
with Heaven and Earth.
23. Those of the next level straighten out their own twistedness. Being
straightened they can possess sincerity. Having sincerity, they can give
form to their character. Their character having form, their sincerity becomes
manifest. Being manifest it is luminous, being luminous it can function.
Functioning, it changes; changing, it transforms. Only the most fully actualized
sincerity is able to transform people and things.
24. Once you are in the Path of fully actualized sincerity, you have foreknowledge
of things. When a nation or clan is about to rise up, there are always
omens of their fortune. When a nation or clan is about to fall, there are
always omens of their misfortune. It can be seen in the milfoil stalks,
tortoise shells and in the movements of the body. When good or evil
fortune is imminent, the perfectly sincere person will know without obstruction.
With fully actualized sincerity, you are like a god.
25. Sincerity is just 'perfecting' and the Tao is just 'following.' Sincerity
is the beginning and end of all things. Without sincerity there is nothing.
Thus the Superior Man values the process of "becoming-sincere." But sincerity
is not "just-perfecting"; it also means "perfecting all things." To perfect
yourself, you need jen. To perfect others, you need wisdom. The
virtue of our nature is that it is none other than the Tao by which inner
and outer are merged. Thus we can always use it to set things right.
26. Therefore, fully actualized sincerity is ceaseless. Ceaseless, it is
eternal. Eternal, it is apparent. Apparent, it is far-reaching. Far-reaching,
it is vast and deep. Vast and deep, it is high and bright. Since it is
vast and deep, it can support all things. Since it is high and bright,
it can cover all things. Since it is far-reaching and long-lasting, it
can accomplish all things. Vastness and depth refer to the Earth. Highness
and brightness refer to Heaven. Far-reaching and long-lasting refer to
limitlessness. In this way, it is manifest without being seen, it changes
without moving, and accomplishes without effort. The Tao of Heaven and
Earth can be perfectly expressed in a single phrase: "Its appearance as
things is not repeated; therefore its production of things is unfathomable
(or 'bottomless')." The Tao of Heaven and Earth is vast and deep, high
and bright, far-reaching and long-lasting.
Now, Heaven is made of many single lights. But they are infinite;
the sun, moon and stars are all suspended in it, and it covers the myriad
The Earth is but a collection of numerous handfuls of dirt. But it
is vast and deep. It supports Mt. Hua and Mt. Yueh without feeling their
weight; it contains the seas and rivers without spilling a drop. It supports
The mountains are made of many small stones. But they become high
and broad. Plants and trees grow on them, the birds and beasts live on
them, and rare gems are stored within them.
The waters are mere collections of many teaspoons. But their depth
is unfathomable. Tortoises, alligators, dragons, fish and turtles live
there, and all sorts of gems grow there.
The Book of Odes says:
The Mandate of the Heavenly Principle
Has no end to its depth.
This is why we call Heaven, "Heaven."
It also says:
Was it not apparent,
The purity of King Wen's virtue?
This is how Wen made his own character--unceasing in purity.
27. How great is the Tao of the sage! Superabundant, it develops all things,
extending up to Heaven. How excellent it is! It embraces the three hundred
rules of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of conduct; it waits for
the right person and then functions. Hence it is said: "If you do not perfect
your virtue, the perfect Tao cannot be actualized." Therefore the Superior
Man esteems his virtuous nature and follows the path of inquiry, extending
himself in breadth and greatness, penetrating all subtleties, penetrating
its height and brilliance, following the course of the actualization of
the Mean. He reviews the old and learns the new, thickening his character
through the valorization of propriety.
Therefore he abides in a position of power without arrogance, and
abides in a low position without being rebellious. When the government
is just, he can speak and be praised. When the government is wicked, he
can conceal himself by silence. The Book of Odes says:
His intelligence and wit
Were his protection.
Does this not reflect the same meaning?
28. Confucius said: "To be ignorant and like to act as you will; to be
of low rank and ignore all the rules; to be living in the present and be
following the norms of the past: all these will bring you trouble."
If you are not the emperor, you cannot determine the rules of propriety,
set weights and measures, or create ideographs. In the present realm, carriages
have the same axle-widths, documents are written with the same characters
and people follow the same norms of conduct.
But even if you are emperor, if you lack virtue, you cannot presume
to create ritual or music. And even if you possess sufficient virtue, but
you are not in the position of emperor, you cannot presume to create ritual
Confucius said: "I can describe the Hsia rituals, but the documents
from Ch'i cannot verify it. I have learned the Yin rituals, and they are
still preserved in the Sung. I have learned the Chou rituals, which are
still in use. I follow the Chou."
29. In ruling the realm there are three essentials through which one can
lessen his mistakes.
If you are in a position of rank, even if you are good, if your goodness
is not evident, you will not be trusted. Not being trusted, the people
will not follow you. If you lack rank, then you will not be respected.
Lacking respect, you will not be trusted. Without trust the people will
not follow you.
Therefore in the Superior Man's practice of his Way, he starts with
himself and then manifests his character to all the people, such that when
he contemplates the ways of the three former sage-kings, he cannot feel
any shame. He is established between Heaven and Earth without any discord.
He presents himself before the spirits of his ancestors without doubting.
He waits for a hundred generations for a sage to appear without confusion.
If you can present yourself to the ancestral spirits without doubting,
you know Heaven. If you can wait a hundred generations for the appearance
of a sage, you know human beings. Therefore, the people regard the movement
of the Superior Man as the Way of the world. They regard his actions as
the norm of the world. They regard his words as the pattern for the world.
When they are away from him, they long for him. When they are near him,
they never get tired of him. The Book of Odes says:
When he is away, he is not hated.
When he is here, he is not disliked.
In every situation, from morning to night,
Their praise of him is unceasing.
There has never been a Superior Man who gained rapid recognition from the
world and who was not like this.
30. Confucius transmitted the legacy of (sage-emperors) Yao and Shun and
modeled his character on that of (sage-kings) Wen and Wu. He was ruled
by the Heavenly seasons from above, and combined the Earth and Waters below.
He was like Heaven and Earth, which have nothing they do not support, and
nothing they do not cover. His function was like the revolution of the
four seasons, the alternation of sun and moon. He nourishes the myriad
things and they grow up together without harming each other, and they follow
their courses simultaneously without interfering with each other. His smaller
power is like the rivers and streams. His great power is seen in deep transformations.
This is why Heaven and Earth are called "great."
31. Only the perfect sage of the realm possesses the acumen, sharpness
and insight necessary for overseeing things, and at the same time has enough
generosity, open-mindedness, warmth and flexibility to accept everything.
He also has enough energy, strength, firmness and gumption to maintain
what he has and enough self-awareness, gravity, centeredness and correctness
to be respected and enough refinement, principle, depth and analytical
ability to discriminate.
Extremely vast, unfathomably deep--he uses his abilities according
to the situation. As vast as Heaven, as deep as an abyss, when he shows
himself, there are none who do not respect him. When he speaks, there are
none who do not believe him. When he acts, there are not who do not appreciate
him. Therefore you can hear his name overflowing from the central kingdoms
out to the uncivilized regions. Wherever boats and wagons go, wherever
human power can reach to; in every place supported by the Earth; those
places illuminated by the sun and moon; wherever dew and frost fall; wherever
there are breathing beings, there are none who do not respect him and cherish
him. Therefore he is associated with "Heaven."
32. Only that person who has fully actualized sincerity is able to adjust
the strings of the Great Net of the World; is able to establish himself
in the Great Root of the World; is able to understand the transformations
and the nurturing of Heaven and Earth. So sincere is his jen; so
unfathomable is his depth; so vast is his spaciousness.
Who is able to understand this, but one who has the firm, acute,
luminous sagely intelligence--who is permeated with Heavenly Virtue?
33. The Book of Odes says:
She covered her brocade gown
With a plain robe.
She did not want to show off her finery. Therefore the Superior Man acts
in a way such that he conceals himself, yet every day gains in luminosity.
The inferior man shows himself and every day loses luminosity. The Way
of the Superior Man is tasteless, yet you never get sick of it. Simple,
yet refined, warm-hearted yet principled. He knows the closeness of the
distant, knows the origin of customs. He knows the manifestation of the
subtle and can enter into virtue. The Book of Odes says:
Though the fish dive to the bottom
They can be seen.
Hence the Superior Man, finding no perversity within himself, has no evil
in his intentions. Those things that the Superior Man is unable to attain
to are exactly the things that others cannot perceive. The Book of Odes
While in your own room,
You should not be ashamed if it were
Opened to the world.
Therefore the Superior Man does not move, and yet is respected. He does
not speak, and yet is believed. The Book of Odes says:
Make your offerings without words,
And there will never be any disagreement.
Therefore the Superior Man receives no awards, yet the people promote him.
He is not angry, yet they are more in awe of him than they are of lethal
weapons. The Book of Odes says:
Only if you don't show it
Can you develop virtue.
All the princes are constrained by this.
Therefore the Superior Man, through his generosity and courtesy, pacifies
the realm. The Book of Odes says:
I cherish shining virtue
Not big noises and flashy colors.
Confucius said: "In terms of transforming people, sounds and appearances
don't amount to much." The Book of Odes says:
Virtue is as light as a hair.
Yet even a hair possesses the great principles. In the functions
of Supreme Heaven, there are no sounds or smells. It is "perfect."
2. There is a pun here, since "humanity" is also pronounced jen.
Thus, in Chinese, this phrase says "jen is jen."
3. Used in I-Ching divination.
4. An ancient method of divination where tortoise shells were heated
over a fire until they cracked. The cracks were read according to their
patterns to diagnose a situation.
5. At this point in the text, one would expect a clear enumeration
of three essential points. But following this are only a set of two, followed
by a set of four. James Legge and Wing-tsit Chan, following Chu-hsi, say
that these three essentials should be the ceremonies, regulations and formation
of ideographs mentioned in the prior passage. This judgement may be questioned,
since in Confucian texts, errors in rulership are generally shortcomings
in the personal character or errors in judgement on moral issues.
Since these are three essentials of rulership, we might look to the
end of section 20 above, which says: "Loving study, you approach wisdom;
loving energetic practice, you approach jen. Understanding shame,
you approach courage. If you understand these three, you know how to polish
your character; knowing how to polish your character, you know how to handle
others; knowing how to handle others, you know how to govern a state or
6. This is another passage which seems to be deficient in the necessary
contextual background for solid interpretation. But again, I must differ
with Chu-hsi's interpretation which reads shang ( ) as "former times"
and its antonym hsia ( ) as "low position." Since shang and
hsia are so clearly contrasted here in consecutive sentences, it
seems much more sensible and natural to read them antonymically. Furthermore,
though to read shang as "formerly" or "antiquity" may be possible
in Classical Chinese, we rarely see it used in that way in the Analects,
Great Learning or Doctrine of the Mean.
The two terms almost always mean "superior" or "above" and "inferior" or
"below," usually in terms of societal rank, or level of personal enlightenment.